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Why Pavilion Turned Off Paid: A Case Study with Kathleen Booth

Brooklin Nash
June 22, 2023

Amid all the marketing tactics and takes shared at Pavilion’s CMO Summit in April, one quote completely stopped me in my tracks.

Pavilion’s SVP Member Marketing & Success, Kathleen Booth, said they turned off all paid social in favor of employee- and member-led marketing.

This bold yet insights-backed move paid off—big time.

Pavilion is a membership platform built on community, after all. Made up of 10,000+ B2B SaaS CEOs and GTM leaders from high growth companies across the world, Pavilion helps its members achieve their full professional potential through human-first connections and professional resources like courses and mentorship. 

Putting advertising into the hands of its members directly championed more authentic moments in marketing—and inspiring conversations that organically grew their platform. They’ve also funneled their paid budget into programming, events and member satisfaction initiatives.

With Pavilion’s fast growth over the last year and creator marketing becoming the talk of every Slack community, I needed to know more. I sat down with Kathleen to distill the strategy behind the big move, including: 

  • Where creator marketing thrives in our post-pandemic world
  • How to help employees build their voice
  • Why a personal brand really benefits the company brand

All in on creator marketing

According to Kathleen, community is a cheat code for trust and authenticity. 

Instead of putting blind faith in a search-engine algorithm, we now ask our peers to give us personalized answers for product recommendations, professional advice and more. We acquire more meaningful information with less research required.

The voices of a community have grown more impactful than an ad from a company a customer might not yet trust. Discovering that creator marketing was full of opportunity spurred Pavilion’s decision to say goodbye to paid. 

“Posting on LinkedIn is one of the best, fastest and least expensive ways of subtly getting your brand in front of your buyers,” says Kathleen. “Would you rather spend thousands of dollars on pay-per-click ads, or have someone on your team develop thousands of followers and be able to post anytime, for free?”

Storytelling data also added to their confidence. The team accessed months of insights from watching their CEO, Sam Jacobs, grow his following on LinkedIn.

The proof is in the process—how to turn off paid with confidence

When the results from paid advertising weren’t equivalent to spend, the Pavilion team took the opportunity to regroup. They considered, How will turning off paid impact our marketing efforts?

Here’s the interesting thing: While their traffic dropped initially, their conversions held steady.

Time to distill how Pavilion placed their focus on creator marketing instead of paid—and how you can do the same.

Start from the top. 

To build a culture of creator marketing, your leaders need to empower employees.

Sam truly believes in the power of organic social and invests time into growing his personal brand. He even meets with a coach once a week and commits to posting on LinkedIn twice a day. 

When leaders at the top adopt brand-building behaviors, this ripples throughout the company and inspires all employees to follow suit.

“A lot of our leaders do post,” says Kathleen. “So I think that leading, modeling the behavior you want others to mimic, is important.” 

If you check out Pavilion employee and member posts on LinkedIn, you’ll see leaders across disciplines posting about company events, their personal work wins and thoughts about community. Each individual shares in their own style, without extensive talking points.

Teach your employees to fish. 

Pavilion initially gave employees social media toolkits as they started building their brand, helping them to write their own posts and get familiar with their voice. 

Toolkits could include sample language to spark inspiration, and assets like links and images. 

“We now have a lot of people who feel comfortable, because they’ve been enabled by the company. They’ve flown the coop, and they’re able to take what they’ve learned and run with it,” says Kathleen. “And some of them have really built quite large followings, which is great to see.”

Leverage company-wide meetings. 

What better time or place to empower creator marketing than when the entire company is together?

In Pavilion’s weekly all-hands meeting, Director of Product Marketing Christine Moore walks the team through what they refer to as “offers to promote.” 

“She puts together a slide for this meeting, and it’s a bulleted list of all the big things we are asking the company to help with,” says Kathleen. “It’s to encourage people to post socially, but it's also for our Member Success team to mention things to members when they have conversations.”

This one simple slide helps everyone be aware of what they could be posting about on social and rallies employees together around growth areas and wins.

Don’t force it. 

The quickest way to lose steam in creator-led marketing efforts?

Require your employees to post. It’s truly an inspiration-killer.

“None of it is required,” says Kathleen. “It's all opt-in, and we try to enable the team as best we can. And we're fortunate that we have a team of people that's willing to participate.”

Instead of harping on the company brand, Pavilion encourages employees to build their own personal brands first. 

“Personal brands benefit the company brand, even when you're not talking about the company,” says Kathleen. “If you're doing a good job of posting, you're building a community of people that know, like and trust you. And that's valuable, right? It earns you the right to talk about your company at certain inflection points.”

Build in celebration. 

Make sure fun has a strong place in your creator-marketing culture.

Instead of having KPIs for member posts, Pavilion has a Slack channel where members can share links for reach and visibility, adding excitement and community to the process. 

Kathleen shared with us how Pavilion employees weave in fun and moments of levity as they create: The Sales team notoriously hosts lunch hours, blasting music and writing LinkedIn posts together.

Incentivize their efforts. 

Pavilion has also been experimenting with rewarding creator marketing. They award employees who are particularly active on social, and they also run contests with members that encourage them to engage in authentic conversation. 

“We had a big virtual event, and we shared a hashtag and told everyone who was participating that the top two posts would win a free ticket to our GTM2023 conference in Nashville,” says Kathleen. “Right before I got on with you, I was tabulating the results. It definitely works. I think people were more excited to post about the event after hearing that.”

All this, and Pavilion doesn’t have anyone running their corporate social media accounts right now. It’s proof that galvanizing your employees and members around a shared purpose will empower the conversation.

Make a case to leadership—or make the effort your own

If your leaders aren’t on board with creator-led marketing, you might have to make a case for its results. Because if the leadership team isn’t excited, they’re not going to post, no matter how much training they’re offered.

Here are two paths Kathleen recommends if leadership isn’t in favor:

  • Create the initiative yourself by championing creator-led marketing at your company. You can continue to build your brand throughout your career.

“That brand halo goes with you,” says Kathleen. “I think the biggest piece of advice I have is to invest in building your own brand, because that is something you can take with you no matter where you go.”

  • When you’re applying for new roles, check out the profile of the leadership team and assess how much they’re posting. This helps you determine how creator marketing fits into the culture.

The results are in: Community wins

Pavilion has been wildly successful in its efforts to enable creator-led marketing and its powerful move to turn off paid ads. 

They saw 220% year-over-year growth and new members have remained just as high.

Turning off paid ads in favor of organic social is a longer-term play. But Kathleen told me that there’s no time like the present to start. 

So don’t over-engineer it.

Put out a call to your employees to see who’s interested.

Build a community within the company, and watch it grow with every single post.